Al and Marsha's Journal
 

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Week 1

If you have been a follower of our previous travel journals, you might remember that I take great stock in paying attention to the very beginning of a trip because superstition tells me that it foretells what is to come.... well that concept has been vindicated once more.....

July 13th. and 14th. (we lost a day going over) - and so it begins:

The big day today was a little more complicated than usual in that we are doing a house exchange with a couple from Dublin who wanted to come to Vancouver... we found them on the Seniors House Exchange web site (Seniors = no kids).... about six months or so ago and began making our plans right away. We got a picture of our "guests" and they seemed to be about our age, and amiable looking. Charles has grey hair and a grey beard just like me so he must be a good guy, and Caroline is the spitting image of JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame, so we were comforted by that.  Doing your first house exchange is a bit unnerving, especially when everyone you talk to who hasn't done it asks the same question: "Do you think your place is safe with strangers?"

So, after all that planning the House Exchange Virgins (us) are all prepared, packed and ready  to go..... To the airport in the afternoon to pick up the Molonys at about 3:00 (a half hour is plenty of leeway after touchdown to get through customs and immigration... right? Wrong!!!) The airport was a complete zoo with literally hundreds of people waiting for the hundreds of arrivals all steaming out of immigration in vast numbers..... At about 3:30 our guests showed up and all was well. Or so we thought.....

We drove home, gave them a run through of the house, cat, etc... had a pleasant chat, and then Charles drove us to the airport to catch our flight to London.

We got to the airport in good time, and just after unloading the luggage we realized that Charles had not given us the keys to his house in Dublin.... much panic ensued.... we ended up leaving Marsha with our luggage to deposit with British Airways (we already had our boarding passes thanks to the miracle of the internet) and dashed back to our house to get the keys, and then dashed back to the airport to deposit me. I went inside and found Marsha waiting for me. No sooner did I find her that I realized that I had left my travel wallet in the car!!!!  Another moment of sheer panic... how many  times could we be dashing back and forth from the airport to home and back again before running out of time.  A moment of rational thinking led me to the conclusion that there was nothing in the travel wallet we couldn't do without, so we began to relax.  Of course, we had to go to the currency exchange and get some Euros and Pounds at a cost of about $100.00 more than Marsha had paid for the same amount a couple of days earlier. Hint.... don't use the currency exchange service at the  airport unless you are dolts like us and need to.

So...after surviving these two mess ups we were quite relaxed and made our way without further fuss through security to the gate.... This turned out to be a marathon walk as the International terminal has been greatly expanded since our last trip.

Did we mention the major sacrifice which we had to make on this flight to London on British Airways? Well, when I booked the flight about six months ago, there were no seats available for points use in Business Class (we chose Business Class because last time we got bumped up to Business Class and now Marsha won't fly long trips any other way), so we had to accept the next best option... First Class!!! Only a reasonable number of points extra got us this upgrade.... It was a tough decision. NOT!!!

So, after the anxiety ridden first couple of steps we were able to relax in the  British Airways First Class lounge just at our gate, and begin being treated like royalty.... It was all very  pleasant.

At the appointed time we boarded the plane and took our seats. The word seat does not begin to describe what it actually was. It was more like a nest.... a virtually private cocoon with fully reclining seats, an entertainment screen, a table big enough for three, blankets and pillows, all surrounded by a low wall to keep each separate from the rest. There are only about ten of these in First Class on this 747 so each had considerable space. There were flowers and a bowl of fresh fruit on a nearby table (and flowers plus a window in each of the two loos - two loos for ten people!). As soon as we were settled in our seats the head honcho for First Class came to each of us and, sitting down on his haunches to be at eye level, gave us an individual welcoming speech and promised to provide for our every need, we need only to ask. We didn't know it then, but we were to see much more of this person later.

We took off on time and before long the staff were there with drinks, and a fancy menu for the meals to come. The dinner menu had three courses, and three choices for each course.

This was turning out to be a great experience after all!  Shortly afterward the staff appeared with the drinks we had ordered and a small plate of pre dinner nibbles which looked like they had been prepared by a chef hidden back there in the galley. Marsha and I both ordered the spinach salad and prawns. I can tell you that you have never been served a better meal anywhere..... absolutely excellent....First Class flying is the way to go!!!!  That's easy to say when you are flying on points, but the fact is that it is everything one would expect and more. I had flown First Class from Hawaii  to Brisbane Australia many years ago (by being bumped up from Business Class which was paid for by my employer at the time) and the experience was the same. Flying inside North America in First Class is not the same experience.

As usual, an hour or so after dinner was completed they were turning down the lights to prepare for getting everyone some sleep. Things were a bit different on this trip though..... they made up beds for everyone who wanted them by flattening the seats, adding a small mattress and a comforter at each place.....we were each supplied with jammies, slippers and a "flight box" full of essentials for the trip.

At about two hours before landing it was "morning" at least as far as the plane was concerned and then another fancy menu for breakfast.

The plane landed right on time and the real world very quickly intruded.....

As our guest Charles suggested later, the wonderful flight from Vancouver to London was just a setup to lull us into complacency..... So... the plane pulled up to the gate ready to let us all off and in our case, on our way to our next flight from London to Dublin. There was one small problem, however, there was no one at the gate to move the passageway up to the plane. In fact there was no one at the gate period. It took about ten minutes for someone to show up and slowly move the gate. This was the first reminder of where we were, unionized England... nobody breaks a sweat here, and couldn't care less that a few hundred passengers were waiting.

Then, after this got resolved and I began to realize that we may be in trouble getting to our connecting flight which was from a different terminal, we were somewhat reassured because the crew told us that as we were in First Class our bags would  be unloaded first and that the system at the new Terminal 5 was now operating properly and is very fast. They assured us that our bags would be at the carousel before we got there. Getting through immigration was quick as there was no line-up. We arrived at the carousel and.... no baggage... this condition continued for forty-five minutes.... no bags, and when they did arrive First Class was not first off....

I mentioned earlier that we would see more of the head guy later, well this was it. He noticed our anxiety, and knew that we had missed our connection by now. He took us personally up to the BA First Class service desk and asked the staff to help us out. They didn't do much except to explain that the rules now are that the gates to flights close 15 minutes before takeoff and if you arrive ten seconds after that you will not be allowed on.... That tore it... there was no way to make our flight. He did assure us that BMI, with whom we had booked, had many flight daily to Dublin and it would not be a problem to get there today.

Somewhat reassured we trundled off to Terminal 1... via a long train ride and a very long walk down an underground tunnel and finally  got to the BMI counter where we were indeed ticketed for the next flight in an hour or so. I remembered from our last trip that getting to the BMI gates entailed a very long walk. Well, this time the walk was at least three times further. To top off the day, the gate we were directed to was occupied by another airline and there was no way our flight was going to be using that gate. We found a screen which announced that our flight would be from any gate between 78  and 88. It turns out that they don't really know which gate you will depart from until the plane actually arrives. It turned out to be gate 78 and the rest of the flying experience was without event.

While we were waiting we noticed a sign on a door in front of us which we thought worthy of a note:

Very explicit don't you think, especially the graphic.

After all of this things went as one would expect, and after a fairly lengthy (and expensive) taxi ride we arrived at the home of the Molonys in a somewhat upscale suburb of Dublin called Blackrock. Their home is on the upper floor of a house, owned by Charles Molony, with a partial view of the Dublin Bay and is very pleasant.  The house was owned by Charles' mother and he now rents out the ground floor to some young folks and has built what was the attic into a one and one-half bedroom apartment for himself. It has a very airy feel about it, with lots of glass and a patio with a partial view of Dublin Bay.

For pictures of the apartment click here.

We decided to take a walk to the "business district" a few blocks away. We found a wonderful diner in the style of the 1950s complete with Seeburg juke box system at each table, and matching speakers on the wall. They didn't work of course, but the time warp was effective. The whole place is done in red and white vinyl. What sealed it for me was the coke float on the menu!! I hadn't seen a float on a menu in more decades than I care to reveal. It turned out, during our other travels around Dublin that this is a chain.... still lots of fun.

After our diner dining we went for a short stroll down to the edge of Dublin Bay and then back to our new temporary home. We were exhausted and after unpacking we both were ready for some sleep time, and we did.

July 15th.

We both slept very well, and were up and ready to go at a respectable time. After a light breaky and answering a few emails we decided we would take a short drive about thirty miles South toWicklow. So off we went, this being my first time driving on the wrong side of the road for five years. It was, as you might guess, a little on the tense side as I had to really stay focused every second. It didn't take too long to get the fundamentals under control except for the inside rear view mirror being on my left side. I found that the hardest thing to get used to for some reason.

A brief discussion of the road system in both Irelands.... There are basically five types of roads..... all but one type starting with a letter.

The "M" roads which are Motorways and roughly equivalent to our freeways, except that they don't always have two entirely separate sets of roads. When they do they are referred to as "Dual Carriageways". These versions will start and stop along both "M" roads and "N" roads for no apparent reason. These roads are always blue on the map. "M" roads do not go through towns and villages. All the rest of the road types do.

The "N" roads which are referred to as National Primary Roads. These are almost always two lanes, but often quite narrow, and often without a shoulder. From time to time they include what is called a "slow driving lane", which we call a passing lane. These roads are always green on the map. In Northern Ireland these roads are called "A" roads and are all continuations of the "N" roads from and to the Republic. There are some exceptions to the nomenclature. For example the N2 leading North from Dublin is a dual carriageway for the first ten miles. It then changes character at a roundabout to the usual two lane type.

There is a sub-set of "N" roads, which start with the "N" but are shown on maps with a dashed green line. These are the National Secondary Roads and have a much higher ratio of very narrow roads to reasonably wide roads as the Primary Roads do.

Then there are the "R" roads which are called Regional Roads and are in yellow on the maps.  These are invariable very narrow, one and one half lanes at the worst, and two reasonable lanes at times, and almost always with no room to manoeuvre. On these roads you have to rely on the skill and mental capacity of oncoming traffic as there is virtually no room for error. The way the Irish drive as a group makes this reliance very risky. Needless to say, they are always windy, pass through many small towns and villages and require complete concentration.

Then there are the roads that don't have a number on the map. They are called Third Class Roads, and that speaks volumes about them. For reasons lost in time they are called "boreens" locally.  Probably started out as cow paths millennia ago. While they are an adventure, to say the least, they are not for the faint of heart and should be avoided if possible. The reason for this is that they are in fact only one lane wide and when two cars, or worse, when a car and a truck meet from opposite directions, one the vehicles has to give way by backing up to a driveway or small wide section to allow the other to pass. Sometimes it is possible to have both vehicles drive up the extreme left side of the road to pass within a few inches of each other. As you will read later, there are several times when we had occasion to use these roads.

Almost all of the M, N and R roads have numerous roundabouts on them, particularly when one skirts around a town. They sometimes are just a few tenths of a mile apart. They are ubiquitous here, and are far more efficient than traffic lights. Paradoxically, some major roundabouts connecting more than one major road also have lights at some of the approach points.

Anyway, with all that in mind, on with the journey:

As we were already South of the main part of Dublin we soon found ourselves in open country. It seems to happen very suddenly... one minute you are squeezing yourself between cars parked on the side (some seemed like they were parked in the middle of the driving lane) and massive SUVs and trucks coming at you from the other direction in a lane about wide enough  for a bicycle, and suddenly it's open spaces (comparatively  speaking). If I wanted to set up  a sure fire business here it would be to repair and replace passenger wing mirrors on the thousands of cars which must clip them on parked cars mirrors every day. Marsha had about fifteen near heart attacks during the day because of this potentail.

It is really hard to believe that people can live in this kind of environment where the roads are the size of donkey cart paths and many of the cars are giant SUVs or something at least as wide. In Ireland, and probably England, small cars (at least in width) are the only thing that make sense. By the way, parking spaces on parking lots are like the roads, designed for sensibly small cars.

We arrived at Wicklow without incident and spent some time wandering the streets. We were both struck by the same reaction as on our last trip to Ireland, the buildings almost all have the look of having been standing there for centuries. While the function may have changed, the look didn't. Most (but not all) of the newer buildings seem to have been designed with this style in mind. In the pictures attached (see link below or the menu bar at left) the Grand Hotel in Wicklow seems to be a good example of this.

After an hour or so of this we thought that we should continue Southward and see what we could see... and off we went again..

By the way, I must mention that we brought along my GPS unit which I use for business travel. I found a supplier of data chips on eBay  for Europe maps and have it installed in my unit. This device makes getting from here to there really foolproof (as long as you pay attention when the nice lady tells you to do something.) It is easy to make a waypoint in the unit, even if you don't know an address or other distinct feature. You can drag the map to the location and once you locate it you tap on the  screen and then save that exact point for later use. That is how I had the address of the house we are staying in loaded before we left home. It also has a gazillion "points of interest" programmed in so that you can look it up by name and save it for later use. We have used that technique several times.  I have not had to look at a paper map for navigation since we got here, although Marsha usually had one open and ready.

So, using that method I entered the location of our next goal, Wexford which is about 120 kms South of Wicklow. Now we are getting into a long drive.... every kilometre we go means we have to retrace that same distance to get back. What started out as a short exploration was rapidly turning out to be a marathon.

Off we went to Wexford and spent another hour exploring the waterfront street in the centre of town. Wexford is considerably larger than Wicklow and the narrow windy streets are very busy with traffic in all directions, and it isn't even a weekend.

This seaside town is, as usual, very quaint and full of character. Once again we thought we were doing pretty well and Marsha wanted to visit a place in New Ross, just a few dozen more kilometres South to see an exhibit about the "Famine Boats" which carried so many millions of Irish to the new world. So off we went again, GPS ready and smooth sailing, until we got to about two kilometres from New Ross.

Marsha and I speculated about that name. The implication is that there must have been an "Old Ross" for the New Ross to be so named. Then the question arose as to why Old Ross would call itself that, if it did,  because when it was created it was then new Ross as the new New Ross didn't yet exist, and anyway why would they have bothered. Wouldn't just plain "Ross" have made more sense? You may scoff at this line of reasoning but on the way back several hours later, via a slightly different route there it was.... a sign pointing to someplace called "Old Ross". You never can tell. To put this into perspective, we saw a sign as we drove into New Ross advertising a celebration of the 800th anniversary of the founding of the town. New Ross indeed. I wonder how old Old Ross is.

But, I digress.

As I said, we got to within a couple of kilometres of New Ross and the traffic came to a dead halt  in a line-up farther than the eye could see. No clue what was happening but not being on a schedule we waited it out. About an hour later after creeping very slowly toward town it became clear that the obstruction was what looked like a semi permanent bit of roadwork with temporary traffic lights allowing one way traffic alternately to get by.

By this time we had already decided to continue past New Ross to Waterford, another 30 mile stretch further South so that we could visit the Waterford Crystal factory.. After reaching the obstruction it was already 4:00 so we decided to hoof it to Waterford to see if we would make it in time. We passed up the Famine Ship exhibit and kept going.

In due course we got to the town of Waterford, On the way there we passed one of the ubiquitous brown signs which announce historic and interesting sites nearby. One of these pointed to "Historic Ferns". We both did a bit of a double take and wondered what could possibly be historic about some ferns.

A few miles later we found out because we passed through a typical pretty little Irish village called Ferns. It never pays to assume anything!!

In Waterford we found ourselves following a road which didn't seem to be leading to where we wanted to be. I had an inspiration and on the GPS I selected "Points of Interest" and it then asked me did I want those near where we were or elsewhere. I chose where we were and then was invited to type in a name. I typed "Water" hit the enter key and there on the list was the Waterford visitor centre which I chose and it led us right to it. Turns out we were on the right road, but its nice to be sure.

We had in fact just missed that last tour but a very nice lady there took us quickly to the factory, telling us some of the details on the way, and we caught up with, and joined the tour we had missed.

Marsha and I really enjoy tours of this sort when you can see the folks actually at work, and sometimes even talk to them. That had been the case at the Baleek factory which we had visited on our last trip to Ireland and it was true here as well. The process is quite amazing and the skill  of these men (I didn't see a  female face except the tour guides) is quite astounding. To get to be a Waterford glass blower takes five years of apprenticeship followed by another five years in junior tasks. They have to memorize about two hundred patterns and to qualify they need to get sixty of them perfect on a test. They are paid by the piece and that means a perfect piece. There are no such thing as seconds here, any unacceptable work is destroyed and the glass reused. No waste, no factory seconds. As the men work in teams of four, if one breaks a piece nobody gets paid. I guess that could put quite a strain on working relationships if one got careless.

At the end of the tour, the last place on the way out was the usual... the company store, which had hundreds of different pieces of every style. There were pieces on sale of the style our grandmothers would have received as wedding presents up to styles very modern and chic. Actually, we bought a modern piece for my niece who is getting married in October.

By now it  was near six o'clock and we started back The route the trusty GPS took us on to get out of town was very circuitous and put us on several miles of the narrow, windy roads which scare the hell out of  both of us. Eventually we were on the road back to New Ross but when we got there the Famine Ship exhibit was closed.. We had decided to try to avoid the traffic obstruction by taking a different, more direct highway back to the major road North of Wexford before turning North to Dublin. We couldn't find the road, but as it turned out the street where we had parked was the one that took us to the bypass. Sometimes fate just hands you aces...this was one of them.. Before leaving we looked for a place to have dinner with no luck.

At the place where our new highway met the road North is another town Enniscorthy where we did find a restaurant which wasn't in a pub. This place was run by two guys who were of Bangladeshi origin, were born in Belgium and now were in this little Irish town, running a Portuguese style restaurant!

After dinner we drove the last 100 kms home without incident, except for  a short diversion for a bathroom emergency. We arrived back after what was to have been a short drive having covered 220 miles. Needless to say, our day ended right then and there.

For pictures of Wicklow and points South click here 

July 16th.

Today is a recovery and neighbourhood exploring day. We walked down the street to the commercial centre of Blackrock again and had another look around. We found a mall down the road a stretch with a largish food store and did some basic shopping and found our way home again.

It was a very restful day and much needed after a stressful travel day and a frenetic first day of driving.

July 17th

Today we are off on the only part of the trip which we had planned in advance. During our  last visit exactly five years ago (and during my solo trip a couple of months earlier in 2003) we stayed for three weeks at the most marvellous hotel which was originally a very old country manor house called Castle Grove. Those who have followed our journals may remember us enthusing about this place.

We decided well before we left home that we wanted to spend at least one night at Castle Grove so we booked for tonight. If you have a map of Ireland handy you will notice that it is a significant distance between Dublin (the Southern part) and Letterkenny in County Donegal which is the last town before one gets to Castle Grove.

We knew we were in for a long day. The distance to Letterkenny is approximately 210 miles

FYI - The Republic of Ireland measures distances in kilometers, while Northern Ireland uses miles, as does England, etc. About the only way to tell which country you are in as you travel about is the speed signs, and the names on police cars. In the Republic it is "Garda" and in Northern Ireland it is "Police". There are no border markings whatsoever that we have seen in all of our driving about.

For the first couple of hours of driving Marsha had five heart attacks and three and one half nervous breakdowns because:

1. I was driving on the wrong side of the road, and a five speed manual gearshift at that!
2. Most of the time they weren't roads at all, but wide cow paths, with traffic in both lanes, including busses, SUVs and trucks, mostly driven by maniacs with a death wish. We saw several occasions where cars would pass `slow` cars on a blind curve going uphill. Totally nuts, the whole bunch of them.
3. It was not bad enough that the roads were only wide enough, in many places, for one and one half cars, on top of that, much of the  trip was very windy with tight turns, often not visible in advance.

We stopped only for gas, lunch and bathroom breaks and made a beeline for Letterkenny. We decided as we got closer that we would go right past the entrance to Castle Grove and drive about 15 kilometers up the road to a little town called Ramelton. We had visited this town for a short while on our last trip on our way North to the head of the peninsula that all of this is located on. Marsha wanted to see the town with a little more time, so we went on. On our 2003 visit we bought a small painting of Ramelton which is hanging in our den.

Ramelton's place in Irish hstory is because that is the location, in 1606, that the last ninety Earls still in power fled Ireland  forever and left it solidly in the hands of the British, who then of course proceeded to complete their goal of plundering the country and virtually enslaving the population. The history of Ireland is totally about the clash between the Vikings the English, the Protestants and the Catholics, and took various courses and turns during the ensuing 400 years.

To see pictures of Ramelton click here

An interesting bit of history: The current Irish (not including the ones descended from Vikings and the English who assimilated) originated in Eastern Europe and were called Gauls (or Gaels for the purists) . This is probably why the original (and recently being reborn, in some places. the only) language spoken here is Galic, or more commonly Celtic. The Gauls were the same people who overran Rome later.

In spite of all of the craziness on the road we arrived at about the time we anticipated and spent an hour or so walking around the little town and taking it all in. There is quite a bit of new residential construction going on and it appears that Ramelton is becoming a bedroom suburb of Letterkenny.

We then went back the way we had come (more windy  narrow roads - the farther North you go in any part of Ireland the narrower the roads become) and returned to the Castle Grove Hotel. It was exactly as we remembered it....by exactly, I mean EXACTLY. Not one piece of furniture or decoration had changed, or been moved (and there was not a speck of dust on any of it. They must employ a gazillion Leprechauns to dust during the nights). We might as well have been there the day before, never mind five years earlier.

Once again we slowly drove the kilometer or so down their one car wide driveway which winds through their sheep and cattle fields before passing through a small stand of trees to reveal the hotel sitting on a large patch of grass on the banks of Loche Swilly.

And, the bonus was that it was as delightful as we remembered it to be.... it  was not our imagination. We even asked for and got the same room we had occupied five years ago, the George Bernard Shaw room. Each room in the hotel  is named after a well known author. This is the room which contains a bed originally made for Crown Prince Ferdinand, of WWI fame, but he was killed before it could be delivered. Mary, the hotel owner found it covered in junk in a Welsh antique warehouse along with the original manufacturers papers.

We were greeted like old friends by the staff, many of whom we remembered from the past. Once we had settled in we came down to the Red Drawing Room and were served tea and cookies. Tres elegant.

This hotel is very  formal in style, and stuffed with antiques of every kind and age, but with all that, if you are relaxed with the folks there, they are very relaxed with you.  It is most pleasant and we would recommend this place to anyone who wants to have this experience.

I have pictures of the hotel and the antiques it holds and if you are interested, click here to go to that page, or to the button on the menu bar to the left.

After a relaxing couple of hours in the splendour of  our room we came down for dinner. While we descended the stairs we crossed paths with an old friend from the last visit, Owen, the senior dinner server. He was on his way to the bar, and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw us. What a perfect double take. It was amazing that he recognized us, and we had a great time during the dinner hours (notice the plural) talking to him and enjoying the first class food. The routine for dinner is that you sit in the Red or Yellow drawing room, where you are served a before dinner drink, and in due course Owen takes your food order. When the meal is ready he comes to collect you and takes you to your  table.

Talk about royal treatment!!!! We had a wonderful  evening, and a terrific meal, and then wandered up to our room, and after some reading and relaxing we went to sleep.

July 18th.

The next morning we awoke at 9:30. The last time I slept till 9:30 was so many  decades ago I can't even remember. As the dining room ends the breakfast service at 10:00 we hurried down and enjoyed a good breakfast, again with impeccable service.

We had a very ambitious plan for the day involving basically heading straight to Londonderry, in Northern Ireland (otherwise known as Derry, which it was named before the British came along) and then heading along the North coast of Northern Ireland going steadily Eastward, visiting a number of interesting places, and ending up quite a way down the coast toward Belfast at a small seaside hotel, at which had reserved a room the previous day.

So off we want again, back onto the craziness of the roads.

The first place we were looking for was called "Mussenden Temple". We thought that today's visits would be straight forward so I didn't bother programming my GPS for any of the places we wanted to see, except our final destination, the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough. This turned out to be a problem because we had one hell of a time finding this place. This is unusual for Ireland because everything is so well marked and signed that it is normally a straightforward proposition. After a bit of unsuccessful driving around I looked the place up in my GPS's prodigious library of places and found it immediately. It was only a bit over a mile away, so off  we went.

I don't think I have mentioned that the weather is the pits. There have been rain showers for the last two days, some light and some outright horrendous. There is nothing to be done about that except to dress accordingly and carry the appropriate equipment, which we did.

After coughing up the small fee to enter this place off we went along a country path and through a stand of trees. It is  part of England's National Trust, which is a self funding quasi-government organization which owns and operates attractions like these everywhere in the UK.

To see pictures of Mussenden Temple and surrounding area click here.

Having found the Temple, dealt with several rain showers and walked for bloody ever, we set off for Bushmills, a medium sized town several miles along the coast. We arrived without incident, or getting lost, and, as you might have guessed, proceeded to the Old Bushmills Visitor Centre which is where one goes to start a tour of the Old Bushmills distillery. By the way, when they say Old Bushmills they mean OLD. The distillery has been operating at this site for 400 years. In 1608 it became the first distillery to begin operations under licence from the British Government. Except for a few interruptions, such as wars, and a major fire, they have been producing Irish Whiskey since then. (Note the "e" before the "y". Scotch Whisky is spelled without the "e".)

We got into a tour in a few minutes and delightful Irish Lass took us through the distillery and explained each of the steps required to produce their eleven different products. There actually aren't a lot of steps, but they have to be done correctly or their quality goes down the drain. Irish whisky is distilled three times before going into barrels, while Scottish Whiskys are distilled twice and American ones are only distilled once. This difference is what makes Scottish and American made whiskys taste more harsh.

Another difference is how the soaked barley is dried, the Scottish way being with direct heat from burning peat which gives it its slightly smoky taste.

The whisky at Bushmills is kept in barrels for a minimum of five years, and the longest is twenty two years. I guess you need a lot of working capital to sit on inventory that long.

They get their barrels second hand from makers of various liquors such as sherry, etc. Each of their whiskeys is kept in a different type of barrel, and often in a series of barrels from different original liquors during the ageing process to achieve the particular taste that they want. One interesting factoid about the aging process is that in the barrels the whiskey loses about 2% of its volume each year. So this means that the ones only aged for five years lose 10% of their volume before being bottled. On the other hand, the 22 year whiskeys lose about 45% of their volume while in the barrel. As the tour guide said "This explains why they charge you an arm and a leg for the older whiskeys".

As they did not allow any photography I can't show you the impressive equipment they use in the various steps. We made the obligatory stop in their gift shop after having received our "free" sample. Actually I had a coke, and Marsha had a hot toddy. After purchasing a few items in the gift shop we headed for the car.

The next stop was not very far (of course not much is very far up here) called the Giant's Causeway. You may  have read about this strange geological formation, as we had and we were anxious to see it for ourselves. We found the location easily and as we were getting out of the car (Five pounds to park but no charge to see the place) a truly drenching rain storm started. We spent a few minutes in the gift shop (there is almost nowhere that does not have a gift shop attached) and waited out the storm. In about fifteen minutes it was gone and we started down the long path to the location of  the stones.

It is very hard to describe this feature so I am going to rely on pictures. Click here  to see the photos we took at the Giant's Causeway. The most likely explanation for this strange phenomenon is that the rocks were pushed up by volcanic activity and formed these shapes because of the cooling effect of the seawater as they were forced up from below.

We spent quite a bit of time looking at, and scrambling over these strange rocks, before heading (on foot rather than by the available bus!!!) back up the steep path to the gift shop and our car. Fortunately for us the rain held off during this time.

Off we dashed again for the next tourist "feature" that is on the must see list up here called Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. We went only a few miles further East and were at another parking lot, and another fee. (National Trust again). There was the distinct fragrance in the air of nearby animal husbandry, but it didn't last long. We asked the young girl taking the money if they had a senior's rate (we take advantage of this whenever we can!) and got a totally incomprehensible answer: "No we don't have a senior rate because we are a (here it comes...) "Try A"" We asked her three times to  repeat herself, which she did, word for word, looking at us as though we were nuts cases not being able to understand her. We never have found out what a "Try A" is, but they don't respect seniors whatever or whoever they are.

There was a sign stating that the rope bridge was a kilometer walk along the cliff tops. It failed to mention that the path changed elevation dramatically in several places. This was not a  major problem going there but it sure was a challenge coming back!!! Not withstanding the trek, the scenery along this Northern coast is a spectacular as anywhere I have ever seen and in and of itself is worth the trip. I have tried to capture some of this in the pictures attached to this section.

We arrived at the rope bridge, and to tell the truth it was a total nothing compared to the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. We crossed it because we had come all this way, and then turned around and came right back. Then, of course, having been less than awed by this bridge, we then had the uphill trek to get back to our car. Marsha was barely breathing hard when we reached the top but I was puffing as if I was as senior or something. Frankly I think that "Try A" should pay seniors to do that trip!!!

To see pictures of our visit to the rope bridge, click here.

After recovering from the uphill hike we set out for our stop for the night in the seaside town of Carnlough about 30 miles South along the coast. Driving along the seacoast, and the little detours inland and then back to the coast is most beautiful. It is virtually impossible to describe the pastoral beauty of the rolling farmland all over Ireland, and in particular the emerald green of the grasses everywhere. One problem driving along these narrow twisty roads is that there is virtually no place to safely stop and photograph the stunning surroundings. So they are in our minds, but not too many in pictures. We will try as we go along on this month long trip to capture some as best we can.

We soon arrived at our destination, having been unerringly led by the nose by our GPS, and its increasingly annoying voice, to the Londonderry Arms Hotel, right across from the water's edge.

The hotel was exactly what it was advertised to be in the Frommer's guide we had used to find it.... Here is a travel hint: When we called the number in the Frommer's book they told us the rate was 120 Pounds. The Frommer's book however listed the rate at 85 pounds and when we pointed this out we got the lower rate.... haggling does work, especially if it is supported by a quoted price in a guide book.

After settling in we went for a walk along the waterfront across from the hotel and took in the quaintness and timeliness of the part of Carnlough we could see. A little later we had dinner at a pub attached to the hotel, and returned to our room to relax before bed time.

Altogether today we have driven another 120 miles. Total driving so far 560 miles.

To see pictures of Carnlough click here.

July 19th

Our trip today is to take us  from Carnlough, North of Belfast, along the coast, by and large, to Carrickfergus where there is a castle we want to visit and then to Lisburn, and finally back to our base in Dublin.

The drive to Carrickfergus was more of the beautiful water's edge and interior, past mile after mile of Irish farms and small villages. More narrow, windy roads of course but by now Marsha was a little more relaxed, although she would attempt to put on the brakes on her side of the car from time to time.

Carrickfergus is a very old town, right on the water, just North of Belfast. It's claim to fame is the castle which is situated on a point of land jutting out into the harbour. It is extremely well preserved, especially considering that it is almost 750 years old. It was originally built to protect Belfast from invaders and to strengthen the Anglo-Norman hold on Ulster. It has been in constant use for almost all this time, the last purpose of which was as an air-raid shelter during WWII.

I am not usually big on touring castles, but this one was worth the time. It is in such good shape (with the aid of National Trust I assume) that many of the facets of its life right back to the beginning are available to be seen. It is always fascinating to see how people lived in the distant past, and this castle provides a rare glimpse into the hard life and very difficult conditions of living in the 12th century. 

To see pictures of Carrickfergus Castle click here.

On we went down the road toward Belfast with one more stop to make in the town of Lisburn. This is where Marsha wanted to stop and visit the Irish Linen Centre and Museum. As you can imagine, I was not jumping up and down with excitement at the prospect of this particular idea, but sometimes you just have to go along for the ride. In this case I was going along for the ride, and driving too.

This was another fairly brief drive along the coast, but now heading a bit West toward Belfast. Lisborn is a fairly large Irish town, and appears to be a bedroom suburb of Belfast.

We had considerable difficulty finding this place, even with the GPS telling us where to turn. The problem is that from time to time changes are made in traffic patterns, and in some cases new roads are built which did not exist when the data for the Europe map in my GPS was created. This was one of those, and  even though we drove in view of the museum a couple of times we could not find a way directly there. It was like that old joke "You can't get there from here." Eventually we parked  in a large parking lot that we had driven by three times and walked.

We got to the museum, interrupted by a brief visit to the library across the street from the parking lot (Marsha is unable to just walk past a library), and spent some time working our way through the linen exhibit. There was a young girl sitting at a spinning machine spinning linen yarn out of raw chunks. It was actually quite interesting and she explained what life was like for the women who did this all day every day. The way the linen industry worked before mechanized methods were invented is that in the linen growing and production areas around Belfast, the women would do the spinning at the front door of their home, or cottage. This is where the term "cottage industry" came from. I read later in a book that the fellow who all by himself created the linen industry in and around Dublin actually financed the establishment of farms to grow the stuff and home based equipment to spin it. He was quite outstandingly successful at this until the famine.

Here's another interesting factoid: During the era when the women folk sat on the front stoop and spun linen yarn they would advertise (yes.. advertise is the right word) their marital status by hanging a coloured ribbon on the blob of unspun linen fibre on the spinning wheel. Red or pink indicated that the lady operating the loom was unmarried and was an invitation for unmarried men passing by to come over and flirt, or whatever. On the other hand a white ribbon meant that the lady was married and for the young men to stay the hell away. If for some reason the red or pink invitations never resulted in marriage the poor unfortunate lady would probably spend her life sitting on the front stoop spinning. Hence the term "spinster".

Eventually the tour through the exhibit took us to a room with a number of weaving machines were. To my surprise there were two Jacquard Looms there. The fellow, Jacquard, had invented a way for looms to work their magic almost automatically. This was done by creating a series of cards (about 6" wide by maybe 14" long) which had holes punched in them to operate various levers in the loom as the card passed through, caused by the operator pushing on pedals. These cards were strung together into a series which made up a pattern to be woven. This system revolutionised weaving and provided a perfect way to achieve identical pieces at a faster than usual rate.

To me the most interesting part of this invention is not what it did for the weaving industry. It's greatest effect is in front of you as you read this. The Jacquard Loom was the device which created the computer industry. Any reader of reasonable age would recognize the term "punch card" as the name of the first mechanized method for gathering data. The Jacquard Loom was the first device in history to use a punched card for any  purpose. In the US the population grew to such a size that a census taken every ten years could not be manually tabulated before the next census was due. The solution was to use the punched card concept invented by Jacquard and apply it to gathering and tabulating data quickly. This was done around the beginning of the 20th century and led directly to commercial use of punched cards and then to the modern computer. Seeing those machines made the trip to the museum more than worth the  effort.

To see pictures of the Museum and the Jacquard Loom (and its punch cards) click here.

After a quick lunch in a neat pedestrian mall area, we headed off to our temporary home in Dublin about 100 kilometers South. That part of the  trip was uneventful, except for another bathroom emergency, and we made good progress.

Earlier I mentioned the problem with the GPS not knowing about new roads, well sometimes you have to trick it too. I was able to trick the GPS unit by telling it I wanted to go to a small town just South of Blackrock where we are staying. I did this because to get to that town the fastest rout is via a ring road which avoids driving through the labyrinth of downtown Dublin to get to Blackrock. Asking the GPS to take us to Blackrock directly would have taken us into the centre of Dublin. Because of my "trick" it led us instead directly to the ring road and we got home faster, and with  much less stress than going via downtown Dublin.

After settling back in and unpacking we walked to the commercial centre of Blackrock again and had a pleasant dinner at an Italian restaurant, and then home to bed.

July 20th.

Today is another rest day. We slept late, did some email  and then walked to the commercial district to see the Sunday market. This is a market right on the main street which has about sixty booths, all of them bits and pieces, antiques, books, etc. In the middle of the market is a small cafe where we had brunch, and then wandered the stalls for a while before heading back. After a home cooked meal we walked back into Blackrock for an ice cream, and then home again.

To see pictures of the Sunday Market click here.

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